How Capitalism Alienates Workers According to Marx

According to Marx, how does capitalism alienate workers? How did Marx feel that workers could overcome their alienation? 1. Abstract Alienation, a term used to describe the feeling of no connection with others or the separation from former attachment. When it comes to sociologist aspect, especially on Marxism, this term describes the stage of losing one’s identity. To Karl Marx’s belief, Alienation means the loss of control over the process and product of work (Bell, 1959).

Thus, under the capitalism, workers are alienated by the production system. 2. Content A First and foremost, from Marx’s point of view, alienation is the eventual outcome of capitalism. Capitalism itself is based on a mode of production, as stated by Marx. The capitalists own the capital, materials, properties for the production, as well as the products. The capitalists will then put the products in exchange with money and hence, gain profit. As capitalists can decide the salaries of workers, they will plausibly pay as little as they can, so as to gain the largest profit.

Without the power of decision, workers have no choice but to earn their livings by selling their labor force. These create what indicated by Marx as the capitalist mode of production. Marx also explained that capitalists are the bourgeoisie class while workers are the proletariat class. Production process and output are controlled by bourgeoisie. Workers have little say on their own will. As mentioned by Michael Curtis, man is enslaved by the system of goods and commodities that he produces.

Therefore, capitalism can gain the domination over the production as well as the workers and trigger alienation. In Marx’s vision, there are four aspects in his theory of alienation. According to his writing, Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, alienation means that workers are alienated from the process of production, the products they produced, species being and other workers. a) In the first aspect, alienation of workers and process of production, workers are alienated from the work itself.

As mentioned above, workers have to work under the capitalist mode of production, which means that they have little or even no say on how they should carry out the process of work. Unlike other professions, workers cannot decide working hours, salaries, working procedures they are involved. Take Jorn Bramann’s example as an illustration, artists relatively have greater freedom on how they want to work. Not only do they have the choice of working hour, but also the working direction. Therefore, workers are alienated for the work they are involved.

They cannot make the decision on the way they work. Besides, workers are alienated under the process of production as capitalism follow the using of division of labor. Take a car factory as an example, the products, which obviously cars, consists of a great number of components. For example, engines, wheels, doors, head lights, rear view mirrors. The process of producing a car is apparently complicate; however, after the using of division of labor, the work process is then become easier. Each worker should be responsible for one repeated part only.

Thus, Marx noticed the problem in this kind of production. He mentioned that alienated workers have to carry out repeated, less interesting, machine-like rigid procedure. They have to work in same position on the lines of production. Marx saw this phenomenon as domination. Workers are also forced to use machinery so as to perform production easily but Marx again noticed a problem in it. He believed that workers are no longer the user of machines while machines are designed to be extensions of workers. Hence, workers are eventually losing themselves from the repeated working method.

Alienation is then sparked off by capitalism’s way of production. b) In the second aspect, alienation of workers and their products, workers cannot decide what they produce. In the past, such as medieval age, blacksmiths, bakery owners, clothes makers and many other producers could decide what they produce, how they produce, as well as the nature of the products. The most important part is that, the final outputs of production belonged to the producers, whether sell them or not was totally depended on them.

But in Marx’s time, factory owners, which mean capitalists, paid money to workers in return of labor force to carry out productions. Let aside the boring rigid production actions, the products belonged to the factory owners, not the workers. Workers had no control over the products and what products should they produce. So, Marx stated that this was one of the four aspects of alienation. Furthermore, this alienation also creates a negative effect on workers. In Marx’s writing Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, he said:

All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. (Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) We can see that Marx believed that workers’ labor force become an external object that is alien to them. This external object will be a hostile force:

The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien. (Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) Thus, capitalism will spark off alienation towards workers. The very products they produced will be “taken” away from capitalists and, as a result, become a hostile force to them. ) In third aspect, alienation of workers and their species being, workers are being separated from the nature spirit known as human nature. What makes human so unique is that, we have our own special nature. Human have personal wills and consciousness. We can create things by following our own belief, will, preference. Human are also fond of beautiful things. Marx discussed about this topic in his Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. He believed that human can produce not only for physical needs, but also for their desires. Besides, human produce universally and can form products according to the law of beauty.

When workers need to follow the capitalist mode of production, the above species being will be deprived. With the fixed working position and repeated procedures, workers no longer produce according to their own wills or preferences. Marx said: Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect. (Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) This saying represents what Marx thought about those alienated workers.

Capitalism put workers under the same routine of productions. Workers are merely a tool of capitalists to make profit. All the human nature, creativity, workers’ decision and preferences are neglected. Workers have to work as ordered by their employers. This is what alienation on workers and species being means. d) In forth aspect, alienation of workers and other workers, relationship between them will also be alienated. What Marx believed was that, workers are alienated by capitalists and eventually become the “goods” on the trading market.

As capitalists own factories, they can make decision about who they want to hire. Thus, workers are first “selected” to work in the factories. Then, throughout the working period, workers are usually monitored by supervisors. Once a worker is found to violate the factory as well as the capitalists’ interest, he or she is no longer hired. As a result, workers have to work in a commercial, capitalist atmosphere. The relationship between workers is worsened. Another important effect is that, relationship between workers will deteriorate or even become hostile under the capitalist working environment.

As the capitalist can lay off any one as they desire, workers will become a competitors of each other. Some may take hostile attitude towards each other as they want to stay in the factory to earn a living. This alienation is against Marx’s hope as people with same interest, same class will be against each other. So, Marx pointed out that alienation not only cause effect on workers themselves, but also the relationship with others. 3. Content B With a view to the alienation, Marx believed that it can only be eliminated by changing the whole system.

Marx pointed out the cause of alienation lies on the property system. The relationship between workers and employers are obviously money related. In this property system, workers do not own the factory, input materials, machines or other prerequisite. Properties are privately owned. Therefore, Marx called these workers as proletariat class. To tackle this problem, Marx had one method, the only method: To completely abolish the private ownership and property system. With the destruction of this money or property system, communism should be set up. Marx once said that: (2) Communism (? still political in nature – democratic or despotic; (? ) with the abolition of the state, yet still incomplete, and being still affected by private property, i. e. , by the estrangement of man. In both forms communism already is aware of being reintegration or return of man to himself, the transcendence of human self-estrangement. Marx clearly stated that communism will bring workers back to human essence. A new society will be created. Workers no longer need to complete with each other. Species being, products will not be alienated. To achieve this change, revolution is a choice for Marxists.

As the authority will not easily change the original way of ruling, capitalist will still exist. Michael Curtis, the writer of Marxism: The Inner Dialogues, said that “Communism will overcome alienation through the creation of a community which ends the cleavage between production and consumption, intellectual and manual labor. ” Hence, the only solution to demolish alienation is communism, while communism itself can be achieve by revolution. 4. Conclusion All in all, alienation is a eventual outcome of capitalism. With the private ownership and money system, the relationship between workers and employers evolve to commercial relation.

With the usage of division of labor as well as the assembly line, workers are forced to repeat the same procedure of production. They will thus be alienated with the work itself and their species being. Besides, workers’ relationship with other will deteriorate. Notwithstanding the effects of alienation, Marx believed that it can be eliminated by demolishing the property system. Revolution is the answer to this.


  1. Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Marx, K. (Between April and August1844), fromhttp://www. marxists. rg/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/preface. htm
  2. Curtis, M. (1997). Marxism: The Inner Dialogues (pp. 129-142)
  3. Ollman, B. (1976). Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (2nd ed. ) (Chapter 22)
  4. Marx on Alienation by University of Regina- Department of Sociology and Social Studies (2002, September 30), fromhttp://uregina. ca/~gingrich/s3002. htm
  5. Marx: Capitalism and Alienation by Jorn Bramann, fromhttp://faculty. frostburg. edu/phil/forum/Marx. htm
  6. Themes, Arguments, and Ideas by Sparknotes, fromhttp://www. sparknotes. com/philosophy/marx/themes. html

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